Fast Times at UTA

Ryan Amacher says he's leading the University of Texas at Arlington into a glorious future. But his critics fear his passion for pomp and party will run it into the ground.

When the Observer contacted Connie Holman, a public relations representative with Wyncom, the company that handles Covey's workshops, she said she had never even heard of Robert Eckholt. "It doesn't ring a bell here," Holman says.

After checking with others in the office, Holman confirmed that Wyncom representatives had negotiated the contract solely with Nancy Kinsey and had never had any dealings with Robert Eckholt. A copy of the contract bears Kinsey's signature. Neither Kinsey nor Eckholt returned calls from the Observer.

Amacher says that Eckholt was paid to do a background check on Covey to determine whether the seminar was legitimate, so it's not surprising that Eckholt was not known to anyone at Wyncom. "Bob Eckholt has been working with me on a range of issues, giving me advice [on continuing ed]," says Amacher. "I think it's money well spent."

Eckholt is working on a variety of projects, he says, including a coalition between the City of Arlington and UTA and projects relating to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Amacher says he can't elaborate on what Eckholt is doing because the information is "privileged" and releasing it could damage negotiations.

It was at Clemson that Amacher gained an international reputation as an economist and administrator. But his tenure there ended under a shadow. Three former professors in Amacher's department interviewed by the Observer remember Amacher as a wheeler-dealer who perpetuated an old-boy network by hiring and favoring friends--charges that would re-emerge at UTA.

"Ryan aids his cronies with reduced teaching loads and by paying them handsomely," says John Sophocleus, a former economics instructor at Clemson, who is now an economics instructor at Auburn University. "There were people in the economics department who had better scholarly records who were not rewarded."

Amacher also took care of his friends by ignoring serious allegations against them, the former faculty members say. Two other former economics professors, who did not want their names used, told the Observer that in 1990, they presented Amacher with a list of 12 charges against two of Amacher's friends in the department. The charges included evidence that the men were using the department's secretaries, postage and telephone lines to conduct their own business enterprises.

In addition, they demanded Amacher put a stop to the excessive partying that went on in the economics department. One professor, who now holds a chair in economics at a university in another state, describes the parties as "drunken brawls" with professors and students slinging crawfish at each other and having "spitting and pissing matches." Amacher, he says, attended some of the parties where he was a "passive observer." The parties escalated out of control, he says.

"It was open season on graduate students," the former professor says, referring to the way male professors sometimes had "fondling matches" with female students at the parties. Sophocleus says he attended a party at a faculty member's home where he saw a professor "groping" an undergraduate in a back bedroom. He left the party, he says.

After the party, Sophocleus says, graduate students complained about the incident, but the faculty member who hosted the party threatened to yank project funding from the grad students if they told anyone.

Though Amacher was not involved in the improprieties, outraged faculty members felt he should have used his authority to at least stop the wild parties.

Sophocleus and the other professors say they took their concerns to Clemson President Max Lennon in late 1990, whom Sophocleus says assured him that he would talk to Amacher. Lennon did not return calls from the Observer.

But a year went by and Amacher failed to respond to their requests, the men say, in part because the people in question were Amacher's friends with whom he also had some business interests.

Amacher denies that the men presented him with a list of allegations. "No, never. No one has ever brought anything like that to my attention," he says. "I knew they had parties, but I'm not the moral police. It wasn't my place to get into it."

Amacher acknowledges he held business ties with one of the professors in question. He says he also knew that two other members of his department that were in business together but that no school funds were used improperly.

But Sophocleus says Amacher not only knew about the complaints but met with Sophocleus and others in the economics department about it. Nothing came of it, he says. "It was Ryan's responsibility to come down and put a stop to all this," Sophocleus says. "He didn't. Instead, he came down and said 'I'm a laissez-faire manager'. Those were the words he used."

In response, a handful of professors petitioned Amacher to allow them to split from the economic department and form a separate department. Amacher made Roger Meiners, now Amacher's special assistant at UTA, head of the new department, the Center for Law and Economics.

Meiners says Amacher has a hands-off management style, which irritated some faculty members who did not agree with the way others were running the department. Meiners says even he did not always like some of the things he saw go on in the department, including a faculty member's relationship with a student, but he says the turmoil in the department was typical of the politics in some other departments.

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